Saturday, August 28, 2010
NOLS Yukon- Part I- Week 1 of Backpacking
The morning after meeting our instructors, all 14 students headed to the NOLS warehouse. This was the official first day of the course. Before setting off, we had to pack our food rations and get our gear all setup. Though I'd never backpacked before, I knew that weight was obviously an issue and I'd have to forgo some of life's luxuries. Me and the word travelling light have never really been friends, but in the past few years, with so many trips under my belt, I thought I had a good handle on what "travelling light" meant. Clearly, I was wrong. Though we were going to be backpacking for 2 weeks, I was instructed to pack: rain pants, hiking pants, long johns, pants to wear around camp, a t-shirt, a warm fleece, wind shell, 2 pair of socks, 2 pair of underwear and a rain jacket. That's it. The motto goes "Ounces equals pounds and pounds equals pain". But I had so many questions like "What about deodorant". Deodorant, I was told, had to be foresakened. I had just accepted the fact that toilet paper wasn't going to be in my future for a month (a source of great anxiety) and now I had to accept the fact that I was going to be deodorant-less too???? I think not. And so, I accepted the deodorant as my 2oz of "luxury" item and brought it along.
Once we got seperated into our tent groups, we got all of our group food and gear and seperated it all out. Final pack weight for the road? 47lbs. Life on my back for the next two weeks equaled 47lbs. This brings new meaning to the word minimalism.
We got to our trailhead late the first night. The agenda for the morning was set: first class at 9am.
Our first class was on how to go to the bathroom in the woods. The most important factors were to be at least 200ft from camp and any sources of water (to avoid human waste contaminating water sources) Our instructor taught a graphic course on all of the "natural" toilet paper options. Rocks, moss, leaves and pinecones were all presented. Never in a million years did I think that a pine cone would be a valid substitute for toilet paper. I was wrong and I'll never look at pine cones the same again. Additionally, in order to avoid bears, we'd have to be heading out to our bathroom spots in groups of at least 3. I was nervous. I was convinced that I was going to have performance anxiety and would not be going to the bathroom anytime soon. This was all way too much.
After class ended, we got split up into our hiking groups and headed off. First order of the day? Hike up 2000ft on an old mining cart trail, with my new 47lb elephant.
Made it thru the hike. My 2 tentmates are awesome. We're all trying to settle into this new world of backpacking. We quickly learn the importance of flat tent camp spots. I wonder why they make everything for backpacking so... slippery. Tent floor + thermarest + sleeping bags are all made of slippery fabrics. This seems like a bad idea. I feel like an oiled up caterpillar trying to squirm across a greased surface. The logistics of this combined with an incline do not bode well. Luckily, my tent mates are in the same situation and we go into hysterics about this. So much so that we disturb the other tent groups. Whoops.
I'm unclear as to why they call what we're doing "hiking". Hiking to me means following some trail or having an end destination. We have neither of those. I'm told this is normal. I suggest the official name for this be called "wandering" as this seems much more accurate.
By day 3, I'm convinced that if the "wanders" don't kill me, surely the mosquitos will. Still don't quite grasp the concept of going up a mountain only to come back down again and going to a lake that looks just like the last lake. However, I'm here to keep an open mind.
I had visions of all of our food being dehydrated muck that I wouldn't be able to stand. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that we had a fair amount of normal things. Staples like oats, flour, rice, spices, etc... We're given some recipes and suggestions on what to make. I just might be in my element now and make homemade pizza over a single burner stove in the rain. I'm starting to earn my hardcore points now. However, because of said rain, my feet are cold and wet and are quickly approaching hypothermia. The instructor notices this and helps solve my issue, by taking my cold, wet feet onto his chest to keep them warm. Who knew?
It's the last day before the re-ration. We have to be at a certain spot by a certain point to get our new food for the week. In order to get there though, we have to hike about 12km. On the map this doesn't look terrible. No elevation gain, no problem. What the map didn't show though was the bushes. For 10 hours, we bushwhack. And cross rivers. About 8 times. About 10 minutes before we get to our destination, I attempt to cross over a large fallen log. I get stuck and my foot sinks about 10 inches into mud. I want to die. Right here, right now, on this log. I have a quiet cry behind my sunglasses and pray no one sees me. What was I thinking? I may have made it 7 days with mosquitos, gnats, hiking up and down scree, crossing rivers all with my 47lb elephant. I may have a tatoo on my body that says "What doesn't kill me makes me stronger" and I sure am putting it to the test right now...